Europe Targets Washaway Plastic Pollution

A Europe-wide ban on washaway plastic ingredients in everything from fabric softener to cosmetics and fertilisers moved a step closer this week.

Today’s endorsement of the proposed restriction by a key EU Committee intensifies the pressure on FMCG brands and other industries to find alternative ingredients or face product bans. During consultation, Cosmetics Europe stated that the proposed restriction could affect more than 24,000 formulations, resulting in loss of revenue for the industry of over 12bn euros per year.

The Committee also recommended the ban include strict testing of alternatives to ‘intentionally added microplastics’ to prove they can biodegrade in soil, marine and freshwater environments. This will ensure only genuinely environmentally-friendly replacements are allowed, which signifies a big step towards reducing washaway plastic use.

Simon Hombersley, CEO of Xampla, a University of Cambridge spin-out developing a plant-protein alternative to microplastics said:

“Washaway microplastic ingredients like these provide many benefits to brands and consumers, but currently at a huge cost to the environment. We are committed to helping manufacturers move from these traditional plastics to new high-performance alternatives that don’t harm the planet at all.

“With today’s announcement, the Committee is highlighting that only genuine natural alternatives to microplastics are acceptable. We welcome this. We will be launching the world’s first plant protein microcapsule later this year, and early testing shows it decomposes in a matter of weeks.

“Europe is leading the way in this legislation, but given that products have customers across the world any changes to formulations introduced in Europe are likely to be implemented worldwide, which is even better news.”

The endorsement of the proposal came from the European Chemicals Agency’s Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC), which assesses chemicals’ risk to the environment and human health, and the likely effectiveness of proposed legislation. It found the restriction would prevent 500,000 tonnes of polluting microplastic ingredients in Europe alone entering soil, rivers and the ocean over the next 20 years.

At the same time, the Agency’s Committee for Socio-economic (SEAC) analysis agreed its draft opinion on the costs and benefits of the proposal for society. It supports the wide scope of the proposal, noting that ‘microplastic pollution is irreversible and that early action to reduce emissions can be beneficial for society’. A 60-day consultation of SEAC’s draft opinion will start soon. The consolidated opinion of both committees is expected to be ready by the end of 2020.

The ECHA announcement is at https://echa.europa.eu/-/rac-backs-restricting-intentional-uses-of-microplastics

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